ASK Musings

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March 2015



Unspeakable Things by Laurie Penny

Written by , Posted in Feminism, Politics, Reviews

Four Stars

I ended up following Laurie Penny (@pennyred) on Twitter at some point. She’s a UK-born-and-bred white journalist who writes about feminism, class, geek culture, and all that lies in between. She covered the Occupy movement, and many other uprisings stemming from young people recognizing that they are currently getting the shit end of the stick. If any of you are familiar with Anita Sarkeesian and Feminist Frequency, you might have come across the above video, as it was the second part of a conference talk in which Ms. Sarkeesian participated.

I enjoyed this book. I thought she shared interesting ideas in a way that I hadn’t been exposed to. This book is as far away from the Sheryl Sandburg-style b.s. lean in feminism as I think you can get if you are a white woman (which I think necessarily limits one’s ability to fully understand and discuss the intersection between gender and race that black women and other women of color experience). While nearly 250 pages long, the book only has five chapters, and I think that’s a good thing. It allows Ms. Penny to focus on creating mostly well-crafted and interesting essays on topics that, if you’ve read about, you’ve probably not read about in quite this way.

I enjoyed in particular her take in “Lost Boys,” which looks at the ways in which men are angry because they aren’t getting what they think has been promised them. She discusses the real ways that the patriarchy (oh, yeah, I said it) doesn’t just fuck over women, but it fucks over the majority of men as well. “People are realizing how they have been cheated of social, financial and personal power … but young men still learn that their identity and virility depends on being powerful. What I hear most from the men and boys who contact me is that they feel less powerful than they had hoped to be, and they don’t know who to blame.”

But lest you worry that this is a book about feminism that just focuses on men, the other chapters are full of somewhat new and definitely interesting ways of looking at gender and sexuality from the perspective of those who are freshly out of high school or college, or making their way into their late 20s. I just barely avoided joining the Millennial generation (I’m about a year too early, and thus a Gen X-er), but they have grown up in a world that is drastically different from the one I grew up in, and it shows in many ways, including how gender and class intersect.

She talks elegantly about rape culture, including sharing her own experience confronting her rapist years after the fact. She talks about the ways in which society puts the onus and blame on women to protect themselves, as opposed to on the men to, you know, not rape. And she rightfully points out that rape culture isn’t just about men raping women, but that it’s about the culture around how women are treated, from the work they might engage in (including sex work) to the clothes they wear to the choices they make around employment (if they even have choices).

I think this is a good book to add to the list of those who value feminism and who have some understanding of its background and history. It’s not as accessible a book to use to introduce a skeptic to feminism as, say, Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti, but not every book needs to – or should – be that.

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